06th Jun2013

‘House of Cards: Season One’ DVD Review

by Catherina Gioino



There are very few examples of adaptations or remakes that have taken well to the public liking, and even fewer prove to be worth the watch and outdo everything in its way. This perfectly describes House of Cards, a remarkable show following the narcissistic Francis Underwood in his strife for political power. The show is a remake of the 1990 UK political drama of the same name, and author of the book as well as producer on the US version, Michael Dobbs, has stated the US version is much darker than the UK version and “is true to the spirit.” This first season has has already garnered the fantastic title of being the most watched show on Netflix and now it comes to DVD and Blu-ray courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

House of Cards stars Kevin Spacey as Francis Underwood, a Democratic U.S. Representative from South Carolina’s 5th congressional district. His wife Claire Underwood is the president of the Clean Water Initiative (CWI), who is played by Robin Wright. Other major characters include Zoe Barnes (played by Kate Mara), who is a reporter for The Washington Herald and made a deal with Francis Underwood to get inside information. Corey Stoll plays U.S. Representative Peter Russo, who is loyal to Francis Underwood for not giving away his drug addictions. Also, Doug Stamper is Underwood’s chief of staff, played by Michael Kelly.

Not even a minute into the first chapter of the show, the audience sees the atrocious Francis Underwood, taking what he sees as pity, killing a dying dog that has just been run over by a car. A quite thought-provoking scene, Underwood goes on to explain that, “There are two kinds of pain: the sort of pain that makes you strong- or the useless pain, the sort of pain that’s only suffering. I have no patience for useless things.”  It is how Spacey delivers these cold and powerful words to show the viewer exactly who he is — and how he isn’t afraid to show it.

Throughout the course of the first three chapters, Underwood finds himself in the predicament of being backstabbed by the president whom he helped put in office. Taking the necessary measures he needs to regain his status, Underwood takes you on a long journey through betrayals, technicalities, and my favorite, flat out lying in front of the said person’s face. How Spacey flamboyantly portrays such a sinister man can be attributed to his numerous years of playing the villain, but it is Spacey’s key performance in this series that really stands out from the movies he has made — not only do we know he is a menacing and powerful man, but we know that he is trying to help the world for the greater good. It is this versatility of Underwood that the audience find themselves in the dilemma of either liking him or hating him. Not only does the audience know that Underwood is capable of being a manipulative mastermind, but that he can get away with it all since he truly is trying to help society.

Of the three chapters, I’d like to say the second one was probably my favorite, due to the plot and the actual content. There, we saw the true under markings of the series and the characters’ intentions, as well as how far they were willing to go to get what they needed. Whereas the first chapter was more of a get-to-know prologue to the series, the second chapter quickly picks up pace and attacks everyone from every side imaginable. (The third was amazing as well, except the plot strayed from pure sadistic politics to centered planning to further manipulate a small time family — but again, an amazing installment in the series). It is in the second chapter we see the true hierarchy of the political series — how Underwood basically is able to politely blackmail (if that is such a thing) people into doing what he wants in the first place. We see senators fall and the undermining of major party representatives, but it is how everything unravels in which we are most attracted to.


Compared to the first three chapters, these three really just delivered. At first, I knew the show was intriguing but it really took me this long to realize it’s addicting. Sure, a part may account for my fondness of Kevin Spacey as well as political disarray (well, that’s a inside joke between me and myself), but this series is just phenomenal.

Just a recap — House of Cards follows Francis Underwood (Kevin Spacey), the White House majority whip who was just backstabbed by the president and now is plotting some unknown, but always diabolical, plot. His wife, Claire (Robin Wright), is the president of the Clean Water Initiative (CWI), and Francis Underwood’s loyal assistant is Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly), who helps Underwood concoct these menacing acts. Underwood has reporter Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara) up his sleeve, and uses Representative Peter Russo (Corey Stoll) to his advantage. Again, just a recap.

The next three chapters deal with Underwood’s new motives to further regain his superiority after being temporarily side-stepped. These three chapters follow Underwood trying to keep the president’s promise of a new education bill within the first 100 days of office. Encountered with a new problem caused by Marty Spinella (Al Sapienza), Underwood degrades himself to come out stronger on top — with an excellent quote of “I’m a white trash cracker from a white trash town that no one would bother to piss on.” And with that quote, Underwood not only defeated Spinella, but rubbed it in his face and let defeat kick in.

Sex, lies, deceit, violence, drugs — everything comes into play here. These three episodes are when we first truly see Underwood in temporary defeat. Yet it’s incredible that the audience does not see it as a low point for Underwood, but with the help of Underwood feeding us “the right” thoughts, it is rather a stepping stone for Underwood, a new challenge in his life that he can easily overcome.

Although the main focus of these three chapters is on the education bill, we see Underwood exploring dangerous territory. His relationship with Zoe Barnes escalates quickly into a quote, “work-play relationship;” all the while, Peter Russo blames Underwood for the hate mail he has been receiving. But what I cannot get over is the fact that no matter what Underwood does — although most of time it seems to be wrongfully intended — the audience cannot help but side themselves with him. His manipulation not only works inside the series itself, but for the people watching as well.

Not only is it in these three chapters that we see just how powerful Underwood is, but we see just how strong his wife Claire is. Claire knows what the relationship between her husband and Zoe is, and she just lets it happen — not because it’s her husband and she can’t do anything, but because she is just as power hungry and manipulative as him. She is probably even worse than her husband; while Francis is a politician and therefore stereotyped into being something evil and scheming, Claire is the president of a non-for-profit organization (CWI) that is meant to help people who are most in need. This is just like The Summoner and Pardoner’s tale in The Canterbury Tales — one is seen as an evil person, but the shy, young, and innocent looking one is in fact far more evil.

And while I just made my English teacher very proud, more pressing matters are at hand — Peter Russo.  Having received hate mail because of allowing a navy yard to shut down in his home town, Russo goes to Underwood’s house in the hopes of teaching Underwood not to use him as a pawn. Too drunk to function, Russo instead cries sadistically (and throws towels, which can hurt) and causes Underwood to start a bath for him. This series is just phenomenal for the quotes — just after Russo gets in the tub, Underwood hands him aspirin and states, “The hot water will open up your capillaries. The aspirin you just took will make your blood thinner. It’s up to you, Peter. Oh, and if you do decide to take the coward’s way out, cut along the tracks, not across them. That’s a rookie mistake.” He hands him a razor and walks out.

Honestly, it’s the ultimatums like that in the show that force you to get addicted — you wonder whether he killed himself or tried to become a bigger man. Not to ruin it but go buy House of Cards: Season One on June 10th and watch it straight away!


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